I’ve been talking a lot about electro-acupuncture and how it’s amazing to take down inflammation, get muscles that aren’t firing to do their job, and release the body’s natural opioids to relieve pain. But a lot of people can’t quite picture what it’s like.
My daughter Cassidy was visiting from grad school last week with her boyfriend Blake, so we combined an office tour with a demo photo shoot.*
Here’s how it works:
First, I do an assessment. I position the patient’s limb and ask them to press into my hand while I resist their pressure.
This helps me assess which muscles are inhibited or weak — usually due to repetitive use or injury.
In an area of pain, you can bet some muscles aren’t working properly. Resistance testing helps me assess which ones, so we can turn them back on using acupuncture or electro-acupuncture.
Here are some action shots of me assessing hip flexion and abduction, as well as her anterior deltoid:
After the assessment, we begin treatment. I insert needles at specific points in the affected muscles known as motor points, where a motor neuron connects with a muscle to create movement, and where the muscle will contract with a minimal amount of external stimulation.
Next, I often use a device that applies electro-stimulation to the end of the needle at a frequency of 10 Hz to cause the muscle to contract.
We aim for a strong but comfortable level of stimulus for just 8-12 seconds a couple of times.
Often, this is enough to get the muscle to do its job. We’ll retest and a previously inhibited muscle will test strong. This was the case with Cassidy.
Here’s what that looks like:
I then applied electro-acupuncture to motor points by attaching alligator clips to the acupuncture needles and running a current through them. The sensation is similar to that of a TENS unit — a strong but comfortable pulsing sensation. I let that run for about 15 minutes.
See how relaxed she looks?
Meanwhile, Cassidy’s boyfriend, Blake, who had been taking the photos, mentioned that he hadn’t been able to go running with with Cassidy due to shin splints. I gave him a short 4-needle treatment so could get a feel for what acupuncture is like.
Results: The day after the treatment, Cass and Blake went running together. Blake had no pain in his shins, and Cassidy reported that she felt “springier,” and the lower limb that received treatment felt “like it’s better at doing what it’s supposed to do.” So even though this was just a one-off “for demonstration purposes” treatment session, both 24-year-old athletes noticed immediate, marked improvement. And hopefully you got a better sense of what getting an electro-acupuncture treatment might be like.
This kind of treatment can be great for:
- chronic or acute pain
- restricted range of motion anywhere
- tight fascia or tight bands, adhesions, or “knots” due to injury or repetitive strain
- wanting to feel your best doing the things you love
- post-surgery recovery
- old injuries that have never quite healed
- preventing wear-and-tear on your joints resulting from compensation patterns
To set up your treatment series (usually 2x/ week for 3 weeks, at which point we re-evaluate), give us a call at (541) 757-4868.
(*My clinic is a health care setting where masks are required, but since we came in off-hours and have been staying in the same house for a week, we opted to show our faces.)
|Let me tell you about one of my lovely patients, a woman in her early 60s who I’ll refer to as “Cindy,” who injured her shoulder when her dog suddenly lunged away from her on a walk.
The MRI showed a “massive tear of the supraspinatus,” one of the rotator cuff muscles. Its tendon completely detached from the bone, and there was swelling in the shoulder joint. As you might imagine, this made lifting her arm nearly impossible and quite painful. After months of lack of use, the muscle tissue atrophied severely and fatty tissue infiltrated it.
What this meant for Cindy was she couldn’t raise her arm out to the side. She couldn’t put away dishes into kitchen cabinets or get her hand high enough to wash her hair. The pain radiated down to her fingers, and she would frequently wake up at night with pain. On bad days, she struggled to put on a coat.
With surgery months away at the earliest, we decided to see what a short course of acupuncture visits could do.
I began with a neuromuscular assessment of the upper body. In addition to the supraspinatus issue that the MRI indicated, I found a bunch of other stuff going on. The serratus anterior muscle, responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint wasn’t functioning properly; there were severe adhesions (“knots”) in the muscles that were picking up the slack for the injured rotator cuff (subscapularis, deltoid, levator scapula and upper trapezius). Treating these accessory muscles relieved the nerve impingement such that the pain no longer radiated into the fingers, hand, or forearm.
After two treatments in two weeks where I administered electro-acupuncture, Cindy was able to wash her hair with both hands and could lift her arms out to at least 150 degrees and cross them over her head. The various muscles that had tested weak were once again firing. I instructed her in home exercises to strengthen the muscle, which she’s doing and is beginning to re-build strength.
No surgery. No PT. Just 4 treatments with electro-acupuncture and manual work.
After 6 visits, she was able to reach across to get something out of the glove compartment of her car, put her dishes away in an overhead cabinet, and fasten her bra with much greater ease. We’re continuing to treat twice a week for another few weeks in order to continue to reduce inflammation, increase range of motion to enable muscular strength, and reduce pain levels as she starts physical therapy. She’s decided against the surgery, as she’s making so much progress.
Cool, right? While this story may be dramatic, it’s by no means extraordinary; electro-acupuncture is powerful medicine for restoring strength and functionality to even old areas of injury.
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